Minnesota at Ohio State

The Sports Xchange

October 10, 2018 at 5:34 pm.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, noon p.m. ET
SITE: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
TV: FS1
SERIES: Ohio State leads Minnesota 44-7. The Buckeyes have won nine in a row in the series.
RANKINGS: Ohio State No. 3

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Golden Gophers

–LB Carter Coughlin has put together some big games this season. He tallied two tackles and a sack against Maryland while getting a strip sack in the loss to Iowa.

–QB Zack Annexstad is coming off a tough performance against Iowa’s highly-ranked defense, although he did manage to throw a career-high three TD passes.

–WR Tyler Johnson is coming off another big game, catching six passes for 107 yards and a touchdown in the blowout loss to Iowa. As one of the Gophers’ only dynamic playmakers, Johnson must have a good game at Ohio State to keep the pressure off his young quarterback and also move the chains to keep the ball away from the Buckeyes’ prolific offense.

–WR Rashod Bateman is among the freshmen playing a key role for the young Gophers. The Georgia native is a player to keep an eye on, especially since catching seven passes for 68 yards and his first career touchdown at Maryland. He had seven receptions for 65 yards and two touchdowns in the loss to Iowa. “We’ve made huge strides — look at our wideouts,” said coach P.J. Fleck.

Buckeyes

–QB Dwayne Haskins leads the nation with 25 touchdown passes and needs 10 more to tie J.T. Barrett’s school record in a season. Haskins was named Monday as the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for the fourth time this season, one short of matching a record for most conference POW awards in a season set by former Ohio State QB Troy Smith in 2006. Haskins ranks fifth in the country in quarterback rating at 190.76 and seventh in completion percentage at 71.7.

–WR Terry McLaurin stepped up big against Indiana. The Indiana native finished with four catches for 59 and two touchdowns. His second score on a 17-yard pass from QB Dwayne Haskins in the fourth quarter gave Ohio State some breathing room with a 42-26 lead. Coach Urban Meyer compares McLaurin to former Ohio State receiver Evan Spencer, who earned the coach’s ultimate respect for his play on special teams and his blocking on offense. “He’s a hell of a player,” Meyer said. The redshirt senior boosted his season totals to 13 catches for 277 yards and six touchdowns.

–WR Binjimin Victor was quiet early in the season, he has emerged in the last two games. Two weeks ago against Penn State he scored on a 47-yard touchdown pass to start Ohio State’s comeback. This past Saturday against Indiana, Victor came down the ball at the back of the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown. “He’s growing up before our eyes,” Ohio State WR Terry McLaurin said. At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Victor is a big target and a capable runner after the catch who also has earned praise from coach Urban Meyer for his improved blocking. Three of his nine receptions this season have resulted in touchdowns.

–DT Dre’Mont Jones recovered a fumble and had one sack in Ohio State’s 49-26 victory over Indiana last week. The redshirt junior is listed by NFLDraftScout.com as the No. 4 defensive tackle in the 2020 NFL Draft, but Jones is eligible to enter the 2019 draft. Jones leads Ohio State defensive linemen with 20 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries in six games.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

Ohio State’s offense is humming. Its defense is still a work in progress.

When the third-ranked Buckeyes (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) play Minnesota (3-2, 0-2) on Saturday (noon ET, FS1) in Ohio Stadium, they’ll be focused on keeping the offense rolling and trying to get the defense to approach the same level.

Ohio State’s defense has played well in stretches. It held Indiana to 89 yards and six points in the second half of a 49-26 victory last Saturday. But the first half was a different story.

“We’re not coaching well enough and we’re not playing well enough right now for the standard of an Ohio State defense,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said. “A lot of things go into that, but it’s our job to fix it. That’s what’s gonna happen.”

Injuries haven’t helped the defense. Defensive end Nick Bosa, one of the best players in the country, remains out after core muscle surgery. Defensive tackles Dre’Mont Jones and Roberts Landers have persevered through injuries.

Jones graded the defense halfway through the season as “probably a B-minus, or a C-plus.”

“We give up too many big plays,” he said. “Our turnovers are there. Stopping the run is kind of there. Big plays are killing us.”

Ohio State ranks No. 56 in the country in yards allowed per game but leads the Big Ten with 22 sacks because of a fierce pass rush led by defensive end Chase Young and Jones.

“We look at everything, overanalyze everything,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “It’s a variety of things. But we tried to build on positives and the positives are that the second half they played outstanding.”

Those struggles on defense might not be as noticeable this week against Minnesota, which has lost consecutive Big Ten games to Maryland and Iowa while giving up 40-plus points in each.

The Gophers start walk-on true freshman Zack Annexstad at quarterback and are without two of their best players. Running back Rodney Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury and defensive back/returner Antoine Winfield Jr. also is out for the year.

On defense, Minnesota ranks No. 21 in the country with 324 yards per game allowed. The Gophers lean heavily on junior linebacker Carter Coughlin, who has five sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. Last week in a 48-31 loss to Iowa, a strip sack by Coughlin led to a touchdown.

But Minnesota will have its hands full and then some trying to stop Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins and a deep group of wide receivers.

In six games, Haskins has thrown for 25 touchdowns against four interceptions while completing more than 71 percent of his passes, and he’s well on his way to setting a number of records if he continues on his current pace.

In the win over Indiana, Haskins finished with 455 yards passing and six touchdowns but was not totally satisfied. Ohio State would like to get its running game going after picking up 154 yards on the ground against Indiana.

“I thought it was pretty solid … and even though we know that we won the game, there are things we’ve got to work on, of course,” he said. “But be satisfied with the ‘W,’ and looking forward to playing Minnesota.”

The Gophers have never had much success in games at Ohio State. And while second-year coach P.J. Fleck aspires to pull off a huge upset as a 31-point underdog, he’ll keep working to build the program no matter what happens Saturday.

“For us, just as we treat everything, everything is the next step,” Fleck said. “We’ve got to look at in terms of, it’s one game. One game doesn’t define your season, win or lose. But it’s a wonderful environment for us to know.

“When you’re going to go play a champion, you’ve got to know what one looks like. You’ve got to know what one hits like what they feel like, what they breathe like, how fast they play, how organized they are, the small … details.”